Austin Nichols, <EM>Friday Night Lights</EM> Austin Nichols, Friday Night Lights

Cue up the '80s David Lee Roth, because Friday Night Lights' Julie Taylor is going to want to be "kept after school" once she meets the new teach in town, played by John from Cincinnati himself, Austin Nichols. invited Nichols — who, fittingly, hails from Austin, Texas — to preview what's ahead. Plus, he reveals that Cincinnati's mysterious John might still be floating around out there... somewhere. (Friday Night Lights airs Fridays at 9 pm/ET, NBC.) Considering that you are a Texas native, do you feel Friday Night Lights gets it right?
Nichols: No doubt in my mind. I'll be perfectly honest — I had never seen the show, though I had heard it was great, and then they offered me this character. I watched a bunch of episodes and I was in tears. I grew up in Austin, which is a liberal town, but all the high-school football stuff remains the same no matter where you go in that state. The show resonated with me so much because I lived in that world and I know about it, but it probably resonates for anybody who watches it. They definitely nail it. Was football your thing back in high school?
Nichols: No, no.... I was actually, strangely, a water-skier. I played football in junior high, but then in eighth grade everybody got bigger and I stayed little. I would have been killed! Even when I grew tall I still didn't grow very wide. [Laughs] What kind of Dillon High teacher are you playing?
Nichols: His name is Noah, and he teaches a bunch of things, like journalism and English lit, but he also helps the kids run the paper. As you know from watching, there are a bunch of beautiful girls on this show, and Noah perhaps takes it too far with one of these young beauties. Yeah, it's in the teasers that he forms a special "connection" with Julie. Is it a one-way street, a mutual thing...?
Nichols: It's definitely mutual! [Laughs] But Julie is such a sweet kid. Would she really take up with an older man?
Nichols: Well, what's great about the show is that Julie is definitely sweet but, like all of the characters, she is so complicated. She is very emotional and just going nuts with teen adolescence, fighting with her parents.... It's so true and so real. Does Noah at least try to fend her off, like, "We really shouldn't get too close.... "?
Nichols: In the beginning, my character doesn't even realize he's overstepping boundaries. Or if he does, he chooses to ignore them. It's blatant that he's crossing the line, but he doesn't feel any remorse until later. When Tami probably tries to run him out of town!
Nichols: Yeah! [Laughs] Is Noah new to the school, or are we to believe he's been there all along?
Nichols: He's definitely new. He's a guy who, like me, grew up in that town and left for the big city. Now he's come back to Dillon, so he comes off as being a bit more cosmopolitan, having been around the block. Outside of Julie, is there another character he interacts with a lot?
Nichols: Just basically Connie [Britton]'s character. Friday Night Lights is known for having a very well-oiled set. Did you get a sense of that while you were there?
Nichols: I loved it so much. I worked with the director of photography before, David Boyd, and he helped [executive producer] Peter Berg set up this free-flowing, improvisational atmosphere. I wish more movies and sets operated this way. It's incredible and it really caters to the actor, because there's not a script supervisor coming around every five minutes nailing down the words. They really let you go and if you're feeling something, they shoot it. Is your stay perhaps open-ended, or is Noah killed in some freak eraser-clapping accident?
Nichols: Yeah, I'm thrown off a bridge. No, it is open-ended. I'm done for now, but I've heard they want to bring me back. I think it's in the works that Noah will come back. Knowing going in how "out there" John from Cincinnati was, were you surprised at all by its cancellation?
Nichols: I wasn’t surprised. I actually sort of predicted what the response would be. I always knew that people were going to have a hard time understanding it but they were going to love it anyway. Everybody that comes to me up on the street says exactly that, I don’t get it but I love it, man. I know people who were stupefied that it was taken off the air, and not given a better chance.
Nichols: Just yesterday I was in the drug store and some guy was like, "Dude, what happened?! It was the best show! In the end, [series creator] David Milch just had a blank check, we spent so much money and time doing it, they couldn’t justify keeping t on the air. If they spend that much money, they want it to be their No. 1 hit, like a Sopranos. Do you know things – secrets about John, answers about his past – that we will now never be made privy to?
Nichols: I know everything. I know everything about John. I actually spoke to David not too long ago and he said, Austin, don’t give up on this thing. I'm still trying to think of a way for the John tale to continue. So it's still in his mind. Like a wrap-up movie offering some closure or…?
Nichols: I always thought that we could just simplify and focus on some of the main characters and not have so many people. Sort of start out with just Butchie and John and do a Butchie-and-John series. [Laughs] Sort of like how The Color of Money many years later was a sequel to The Hustler, it would be cool to see a different incarnation of the same characters. "John from Cincinnati: The Three-camera Sitcom"!
Nichols: [Laughs] Exactly. "John, how many times have I told you – floating above your sheets is just creepy!" And cue laugh track.
Nichols: I love it! Lastly, tell me about your role on the big-screen adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' The Informers.
Nichols: I'm actually sitting in the sun right now because I'm on my way to Uruguay this weekend to finish shooting, and I have to be really tan. My hair is belched blonde, I look like Billy Idol. I'm so 1983-fabulous, it's ridiculous. Are you working with the wonderful Amber Heard (Hidden Palms)?
Nichols: I'm working with her – she is fantastic – and Kim Basinger, Billy Bob Thornton, Mickey Rourke, Winona Ryder…. All these great people. I play the best friend of John Foster and I'm having an affair with his mother, who is Kim Basinger. She's sort of a pill-popping depressive wife, and Billy Bob is her studio executive husband. You know Bret Easton Elis, it's one of his best books and I think it's probably going to be one of the best movies made from his work. He wrote the screenplay, which he has never done before. Did you brush up on 9 ½ Weeks before wooing Kim on screen? Or did you try to put that out of your head?
Nichols: [Laughs] I saw it years ago and thought about rewatching it, but I was like, "No, don't do that."

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